The Business of Starting Your Own Law Firm
Starting your own law firm will require some general business aptitude. A law practice will likely require you to enter into an office lease, hire staff, maintain insurance, utilities, advertising and a minimum office technology presence.
Thinking about going solo in the legal profession? Whether you’re just out of law school or have been practicing law for several years, starting your own law firm can be very exciting. Owning your own firm gives you control over the scope of your practice, allows you to pursue the cases you are truly passionate about, and can be a very rewarding experience.
We spoke with Joseph Nastasi and John Steiner, two successful lawyers who have started their own law firms in the greater Philadelphia area, to determine the five most important things they learned that you need to know to go solo in the legal profession and find success with your new small business.
1. Law School Teaches You How to Be a Lawyer, Not a Business Owner
Running any business involves much more than just the service rendered. You may be an excellent lawyer, but, likely, you haven’t had too much experience running an office. At first, you might be acting not only as legal counsel, but also as HR, accounting, marketing, and interior decorator!
John Steiner, a workers’ compensation lawyer from Delaware County, said this about running the business: “I knew a lot about how to be a trial lawyer, but nothing about running a business. When I opened my practice, I had to deal with staffing, insurance, setting up office equipment, painting the walls, how to set-up the office space, and a variety of other non-legal chores.”
Running a business can also involve significant overhead costs. Joseph Nastasi of Nastasi Law from the greater Philadelphia area, said “You don’t realize the [overhead] expenditures in their fullest until you start running and growing an office. From insurance, to rent to electric and postage, there are a lot of expenses just to stay afloat.”
Law school doesn’t teach you how to run your own business, so you will need to spend time both practicing law and learning how to be a business owner. Developing a business plan, learning law practice management, making a marketing plan, and operational business development are all things solo practitioners have to learn to be successful.
2. Maintaining A Balance Between Your Law Practice and Family Life Is Important
When you start your firm, it’s tempting to try to take every case that comes your way. You’re excited to start proving yourself through your work and start supporting your venture, but this can quickly become overwhelming.
“I learned very quickly not to take on every case. Sometimes it’s equally lucrative to refer cases out, and more cost-effective.” says Mr. Nastasi, “I had to learn when to go home. There’s always more work to be done, but you need to keep it in perspective and find a healthy balance between family and work.”
“Focus on doing your best with the cases you get, and more potential clients will follow. “As long as you are good in court and you win the cases, you’re able to attract new clients from your old clients who are happy with your services,” says Mr. Steiner.
Running a small firm involves a lot of in-house work that would otherwise be done by someone else. Especially in the first year, when your new firm is growing fast, finding a healthy work-life is essential to staying course and avoiding burnout.
3. Owning Your Own Law Firm Can Give You Professional Clout
Striking out on your own can help you make a name yourself within the legal community. Running your own firm takes a high level of expertise, and showing that you can handle yourself and successfully represent your clients is the proof in the pudding.
“Starting my own firm has bolstered my credibility, in my opinion. I have had an influx of work, merely by having my name on my sign. I think people have more confidence in you if your name is on the sign as the owner,” said Mr. Nastasi.
Be careful, however. Having your name on the sign is an accomplishment for sure, but it isn’t the end of the line.
“I still go in the same courtrooms, face the same judges, and argue with the same opponents,” said Mr. Steiner, “I do the same litigation as I did before, but I do it on my own now.”
The clout comes from being able to manage your office, maintain client relationships, and win cases by yourself or with a partner out of your own practice.
4. Running Your Own Law Practice Can Be Very Rewarding
Owning your own firm is hard work, but the product of your labor is fulfilling. You get to determine the scope of your practice, choose the cases that you’d like to work on, and the satisfaction of helping a client from end-to-end.
For Mr. Nastasi, the most rewarding part of running his solo practice is “Being able to support both myself and my family and being my own boss. There is a level of self-assurance when you can take on a case from start to finish, and receive positive feedback from clients when all is said and done.”
For Mr. Steiner, “I’m able to determine case strategy, use my time efficiently, and I have more control over the full scope of my practice. It has paid off both financially and professionally.”
5. It’s Very Doable
Starting your own firm can be daunting. There’s a lot to keep track of and it’s hard work to establish yourself as an effective practitioner all on your own or with a partner. However, armed with the right knowledge, you can make it work. It takes passionate dedication to yourself, your work, and your clients and a willingness to learn and grow from the experience. Both of the lawyers we spoke with attested to this.
“Don’t be afraid to jump in the water. As long as you are an effective lawyer, you can make it work. I think that, in hindsight, it’s something I should have done a long time ago,” said Mr. Steiner.
“I decided to open my own firm in April of 2016 because, in my opinion, when you get the sense that you have enough of a client list you can take a shot at owning your own firm in this profession,” said Mr. Nastasi.
If you feel confident in your area of law and your ability to attract prospective clients, practicing law in your own firm is not as far fetched as it seems.
John Steiner is a workers’ compensation lawyer from Upper Darby, PA. He is the owner and operator of The Law Offices of John Steiner and has over 25 years of experience in worker’s compensation. Mr. Steiner has been named the Best of Delco Workers’ Compensation Lawyers by the Delaware County Daily Times newspaper for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Joseph Nastasi is a lawyer from Drexel Hill, PA. He is the owner and operator of Nastasi Law, a firm that deals with family, criminal, personal injury, and estate planning law. Mr. Nastasi has practiced law for over 15 years and has been running his own office for the last 3 years.